For the Hmong people living in overcrowded refugee camps in Thailand, America is a dream: the land of peace and plenty. In 1995, ten years after their arrival at the camp, thirteen-year-old Mai Yang and her grandmother are about to experience that dream. In America, they will be reunited with their only remaining relatives, Mai’s uncle and his family. They will discover the privileges of their new life: medical care, abundant food, and an apartment all their own. But Mai will also feel the pressures of life as a teenager. Her cousins, now known as Heather and Lisa, try to help Mai look less like a refugee, but following them means disobeying Grandma and Uncle. From showers and smoke alarms to shopping, dating, and her family’s new religion, Mai finds life in America complicated and confusing. Ultimately, she will have to reconcile the old ways with the new, and decide for herself the kind of woman she wants to be. This archetypal immigrant story introduces readers to the fascinating Hmong culture and offers a unique outsider’s perspective on our own.
First-time novelist Shea (author of a nonfiction title about the Hmong people, The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story) deftly traces the physical and emotional journey of a 13-year-old orphan from Laos, who is assimilated into American society. Despite the characters' confined living space, the author paints a picturesque backdrop of peaceful mountain landscapes where water buffalo graze, and where "green shoots of rice peeked up from flooded paddies." After spending 10 years in a refugee camp in Thailand, Mai Yang and her grandmother travel to rejoin their extended family in Providence, R.I. While Mai Yang's grandmother reluctantly abandons her Hmong lifestyle (as Mai Yang hurries her grandmother along, the woman says, "Hush! My eyes are saying goodbye"), Mai Yang eagerly anticipates seeing her relatives and embracing the challenges of learning English and attending school. Upon her arrival in America, however, Mai Yang is shocked by her cousins' rebellious, disrespectful behavior. She also feels weighed down by her grandmother's childlike dependence upon her. While eloquently expressing how the threads tying Mai Yang to her heritage become entangled with new values, the author creates a delicate, credible balance between sorrow and joy, and builds dramatic tension as Mai Yang struggles to become American without losing her Hmong identity. Besides learning much about Hmong culture and attitudes, readers gain an opportunity to observe American society from a different vantage point as Mai Yang is inundated with sometimes disturbing, sometimes remarkable images of contemporary culture. Ages 10-14. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.